Monday, 27 December 2010

#18 – Walter Travis

Best Course: Hollywood

Other notable work: CC of Scranton, Cape Arundal, Westchester, Yahnundasis, Ekwanok, Lookout Point

Notable Renovations: Garden City (so numerous it’s considered a Travis course)

Overview: Walter Travis is well known for his great playing career winning the US Amateur in 1900, 1901 and 1903 and his stunning win at the 1904 British Amateur. He used his prominent status in the game to influence the direction of golf and course architecture – largely fighting against the penal style of architecture. He founded and edited “American Golfer” and used that position to comment and often criticize the state of golf architecture throughout the United States. This was a common occurrence since it was his comments, suggestions and criticisms of Garden City in a 1906 article that eventually lead to his major renovation of Garden City. The work was so extensive that after a few years many feel that the course was a Travis course. He actually began his career in golf design working with John Duncan Dunn at Ekwonok in 1900, but it was his work at Garden City which brought him to prominence as a golf course architect.

The incredible 4th at Hollywood, how many architects would have created this?

Praise for the work: If you have ever played a Walter Travis course with original greens, you will understand when I say that he probably built the best greens of any architect. His greens varied throughout the course using creases, wild undulations, sharp pitch, bowls, false fronts, and ridgelines. It was the compartmentalization of pin areas that set him completely apart from all others. He accomplished this by combining pockets and rolls primarily, but occasionally would use other features too. He managed regularly to deliver greens where putting from one pin position to another was extremely complicated. Any surprise from the man most considered the greatest putter in history. Every architect should study his use of a ridgeline because no architect ever has done them better.
Cape Arundel, many like Bruce Hepner think this is his best

The downhill hole to a peninsula green is another trademark that is unique to Walter. He would often bench a green part way down a slope so that a bounce in approach would be prudent, but the typically aggressive attempt to fly the ball in would be met with a harsh penalty if the player missed the green. Walter certainly routed some of the more unusual holes like this and created some exciting shots not found on too many other courses.

Criticisms: Walter had no issue with a blind shot, and would often route a tee shot over a hill to set up the next shot into a natural green site. There are great examples at Westchester, site of the Buick Open in June. The criticism that I have is that many other holes seem at odds with the land leaving me wondering if that was the best routing for the property. With small modifications to his routing many of those holes would no longer be blind and the holes around would remain unaffected. While I admire the audacity to break convention and create unusual holes like the 10th at CC of Scranton, there are so many others that seem blind only for the sake of being blind.

While exciting on occasion - the tee shot over the hill is a common trait at many courses

Great Quotes: "The primary idea of a hazard is to punish, to the extent of one stroke, a poorly played shot, and to make the recovery exceedingly difficult, and even by the virtue of the following shot being extraordinarily good. If this end is not attained, the existing hazard fails to fill it's functions."

My favourite: Hollywood: The course is a little different from all the others being a little larger and a little challenging than most of his work. The greens are great examples of his contours, but the bunkers are completely unique for Travis. The use of sand in such a massive scale bring reminds you of Pine Valley – and his use of angles is more pronounced here than at any of his other work. The cheeky creation of the 4th hole is one for the ages. What I really enjoyed the most was there was much less of the blindness that seems to dominate some courses.
The green contours at the CC of Scranton are as good as it gets in golf

What I take from him: I’m certain influenced by the greens and there impact on how a course plays. In fact everything that Walter did that involves a ground game from putting to chipping to the bounce in approach is wonderful. This is the game that I enjoy and the reason why he is held in such high esteem. He certainly understood the spirit of the origins of the game even if he was so critical of British Links golf – but that was likely due to the treatment he unfairly received at the British Amateur – something he could never let go of.

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